Gusto Announces First Ever Gusto Impact Award Winners

Gusto Editors

Over the past few months, small businesses in Atlanta, Austin and Orlando have showcased the incredible ways they contribute to their communities for the first ever Gusto Impact Awards

The awards have been a celebration of the spirit and resilience of small enterprises. Aimed at recognizing businesses that not only thrive but give back, they have showcased inspiring stories of innovation, dedication, and community service.

The stakes were high, with prizes including $10,000 in cash, $50,000 in local advertising, and a year of free Gusto payroll services. Entrants were asked to articulate their mission, the impact they’ve made in their local communities, and how winning would make a difference to their business. 

The response was overwhelming, with more than 1,700 businesses sharing their unique stories, each illustrating the significant impact small teams can have. As we unveil the winners, we’re celebrating  not just the victors but every small business who, through their daily efforts, make our communities brighter, better places to live.

Atlanta winner: Xocolatl Chocolate

Xocolatl’s mission is to craft exceptional chocolate while making a positive impact on its community, cacao farmers, their employees, and the environment. 

In 2012, Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt were both burned out from their busy respective careers working with international aid nonprofits and political campaigns. As they worked through their transition, they decided to return to a tiny town in Costa Rica, where they had backpacked ten years earlier. While living there, the one luxury they indulged in was tiny dark chocolate bars from a farmer’s market.

“It was the only thing that was not a necessity that we were buying at the time,” Elaine told Gusto. “As a couple, we had always talked about being small business owners,” she said. After a few months, Elaine and Matt decided that they “wanted to build a business centered around making delicious chocolate made from cacao grown by small family farmers like the ones [they] met while living in Costa Rica.”

While learning about the chocolate-making process, Elaine and Matt discovered that their business would connect to many things they cared about in their previous careers. “There’s environmental issues, there’s social justice, economic issues with farmer equity and the supply chain,” Matt told Gusto. Starting a small batch chocolate company “seemed like a more exciting, fun way to address some of the things that we had already cared about and were focused on.”

In Atlanta, Xocolatl donated money, chocolate, and time to over 30 non-profits in 2023 alone, including $1 from every chocolate Easter bunny sale to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. 

The company prioritizes environmental sustainability in the manufacture of their chocolate and ethical cocoa sourcing, ensuring farmer welfare and quality products. It purchases cacao directly from small family farmers, farmer cooperatives and social enterprises founded with the mission to improve the financial security of small, family-run cacao farms. 

Matt told Gusto that “the environmental sustainability piece is something that we’ve put a lot of work into and we’re very proud that in 2023 we became certified as a carbon neutral company.”  They will be using a portion of their award to enhance employee benefits and continue pushing forward with their environmental sustainability goals.

Austin winner: Tankproof

In 2011, Tankproof was born from the shared vision of two brothers–Thurman and Torrence Thomas. The start of their nonprofit was inspired some years earlier after Thurman’s vivid near-drowning experience at age 10. When they began to do research, they were astonished to discover that 64% of minority children do not know how to swim, and Black children are 5.5 times more likely to drown than white children. They wanted to find an avenue to give back, and decided to facilitate swim lessons for children in minority groups across the U.S. to help them become confident in the water and learn how to swim. 

Since its inception, Tankproof has expanded to provide swim lessons in nine states and provide them with the essential skills to become confident swimmers. “We deal mostly with families from low-income backgrounds,” Thurman told Gusto. “We are coming from the mindset of, hey, this is a life skill. Every single person should be afforded the life-saving gift of swimming.”

In addition to providing swim lessons, Tankproof also distributes food in Austin communities every week. In 2023 alone, it distributed over ten tons of food in Austin, hoping to surpass that in 2024. 

As a small nonprofit, Tankproof’s challenge is reaching a wider audience, and Thurman and Thomas plan to do that with their winnings. “The first step is just kind of ending the obscurity that we have in the marketplace,” Thomas told Gusto. 

“[We’re] one of the only ones that do what we do in the country at scale. There’s no reason why more people shouldn’t know about what we do.”

Beyond getting the word out about Tankproof,  the cash grant would be utilized for hosting a one-week-long swim lesson for more kids in Austin.

Orlando winner: boxthecity

Boxthecity is a small, woman-owned, Orlando-based business that curates gift sets for the meetings and conventions industry. 

After spending years as a meeting planner, Sarah Welsh noticed that corporate gifting options tended to be generic without any tie to the destination. On a visit to a neighborhood market, it dawned on her: wouldn’t it be interesting to find a way for corporate gifting to be local? 

Sarah told Gusto, “boxthecity’s narrative is really part of the bigger story of our nationwide network of small businesses we rely on to curate gift sets. With Orlando being such a big market for meetings and conventions, there was such an opportunity here to connect meeting planners with really cool,  unique, and  amazing local products.”

boxthecity specializes in local products that support small businesses, diverse makers, and community causes. Over 40% of their products sold in 2023 had a give-back component. They are also donating 4% of their 2024 net profits to a local cause.

Sarah told us about one local business they work with that employs adults with developmental disabilities, and because of boxthecity’s inclusion of their product in gift sets at a single conference, enough revenue was generated to allow the business to hire two more full-time employees.

“I get so excited when I think about how our customer’s choice of gift is truly making a difference in these individuals’ lives.”

When meeting planners partner with boxthecity for event gifting, there is a direct economic impact to the local community. Plus, travelers take home with them unique gifts that celebrate the region and remind them of their visit long after the event.

The marketing package will aid boxthecity’s growth – benefiting their entire community of makers. They plan to reinvest the grant for expansion into additional key markets in 2024, allowing more cities to promote their local makers through gifting.

As we congratulate the winners of the first Gusto Impact Awards, we are reminded of small businesses’ influential role in enriching our communities and driving economic growth.  

Each story shared during this contest represents the creativity and community spirit of entrepreneurs across Atlanta, Austin, and Orlando. 

The achievements and innovations celebrated through this contest are just the beginning. We look forward to recognizing more businesses and cities in the years to come.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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